Transcribing Teamwork

By Kailan Sindelar
Graduate Student, UNC Charlotte

It’s a rule of mine that I travel with as little technology as I think is appropriate. It’s a rule that has kept me from being distracted by day-to-day electronic procrastinations and responsibilities when I am in a new, exciting place. Without thinking twice, I left my laptop at home and headed out to Washington DC with my fellow grad students from UNC Charlotte. It wasn’t until we were somewhere in Virginia that I realized I might actually need my own laptop for the Transcribathon. Having never been to the Folger Shakespeare Library before, I had pictured a library much our own campus (which offers a large number of laptops for rent). Since this was not the case when I arrived to the Transcribathon, Robin Kello was kind enough to let me transcribe with him. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I became quite the handicap when we started doing Sprint competitions. Poor Robin was considerate enough to let me confirm his transcriptions before committing them to the keyboard. While we certainly weren’t the fastest transcribers as a team, we did make a good team.

As we went through transcribing together, during a sprint or not, we collaborated on every word. We took extra care to confirm or question each other’s initial interpretations of the handwriting. We also shared surprise at recipes that took a turn for the unexpected. Sheapshead Puddin was our favorite. It’s a recipe that sounds so colloquial, yet obviously from a foreign time. The kind of collaboration and mutual enjoyment from encountering the unexpected is exactly the kind of experience we strive for in our meetings in the Early Modern Paleography Society, which is a transcription club we have created on campus. While our mutual collaboration may not be fast, it allows us to compare impressions and learn how our peers interpret the same handwriting that we see. Transcribing in group allows us to learn with each other and share our reactions to what we transcribe. Watching, and being a part of, the mass collaboration that took place at the Transcribathon was inspiring. Our group walked away happy and encouraged by the amount of work that can be accomplished when so many people collaborate.

The Community of the Transcribathon

By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

A few weeks ago, an international community gathered together with one purpose: to transcribe a 17th-century recipe book. I was one of the graduate students from UNC Charlotte fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Transcribathon on-site at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an incredible experience for me, especially since I am particularly interested in early modern book history.

The thing that most astonished me about the Transcribathon was the sense of community. Though I am merely a second-year master’s student, I immediately felt at-home, welcomed with open arms by leading scholars in their respective fields.
The atmosphere in the basement room at the Folger was charged with excitement. It was by no means a solitary experience: the room was filled with transcribers exclaiming over delicious recipes (like cheesecake and butter-filled pancakes), reading aloud tweets from transcribers at remote locations, and deliberating over nearly illegible or really strange words or phrases (“does this recipe really call for an ounce of unburied man’s skull?”). Though we each transcribed individually, there was certainly a communal sense of purpose and an excitement about our work. Even the transcription sprints, while creating some competition among transcribers, fostered the community – we all worked in unison on the same page and later projected our transcriptions on the screen, each person taking a turn to read a line and see our communal progress.

The best part of the day, though, was when Dr. Heather Wolfe, the manuscript curator at the Folger, brought the Winche manuscript into the room. To see in-person the very pages we spent the entire day transcribing digitally was a surreal experience; we all gathered around the manuscript, asking questions and finding the pages that we had already transcribed. As Dr. Wolfe showed us the pages of the manuscript, our post-modern, technological world collided with the 17th century world of Rebeckah Winche in a very real way. It was almost as if Winche herself was present in the room with us.
I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity to participate in the Transcribathon. The sense of connection and common purpose made transcription even more real and important to me than it already was. And, as a result of this amazing experience, the officers of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) have decided to host our own Transcribathon in the spring in order to provide an opportunity for others to experience this community like we have. These avenues for connection are so important to the work that we do. After all, that’s why recipes are so important: they bring people together.

Sheepeshead Pudden Chronicles, or, Adventures in Transcription

By Robin Kello
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

Fellow travelers in transcription and compatriots in the paleographic arts, allow me to share a short tale.

After the October transcribathon at the Folger, a friend asked: “Why waste a day looking at old recipes?” Yes, dear readers, you may be astonished to hear it, but there are folks out there who fail to notice the magic of the early modern manuscript.

While I do not spend time criticizing his leisure pursuits – a certain recipe of hops, barley, yeast, water, and American football – I relished the opportunity to respond. I suggested that beyond the political, ethical, and scholarly reasons to do the good work of transcription, there is joy to be found in what Amy Tigner refers to on this blog as “the treasures of the book.” The adventure of the transcribathon – our transatlantic, cross-century colloquy with Rebeckah Winche – engenders community and occasions discovery.

To transcribe Winche’s book is: to open a door that opens further doors into the past; to rethink environments both “natural” and cultural; to see a reflection of renaissance trade routes in the ingredients of remedies and recipes; to recognize an expression of the transmission of folk knowledge before the standardization of medicine; and to be given access to the views of early moderns who were not the poets and priests or sanctioned scribes and scholars of the realm, but the unofficial chronicles of the time. These recipes articulate methodologies of care, of how we used to sustain and heal ourselves.

They also offer a toad’s leg in a silk satchel to be hung around the neck, the urine of a young boy, and various recipes for “Sheepesehead Pudden.” The single-word “Sheepeshead,” the “en” that resolves the substantive noun, and the double “d,” arching forward, as secretary hand will, toward the preceding word – this language and its world are both familiar and strange. Though I do not intend to par boyle the head of sheep to make a very fine pudding, I delight in the discovery, and share it with my companions.

Then we all partake in Winche’s marvelous book, triple-transcribed, viewed and vetted, fit for consumption, with the rest of the world. In 1715, 1815, or 1915, it was reserved for the fortunate few; in 2015, the web lets us give it to the world. The cutting edge of this cutting-edge scholarly endeavor is not just in its valuable interdisciplinary import, but in the democratic nature of the digital humanities.

I am immensely grateful to have been part of the transcribathon, to be a member of the Early Modern Paleography Society at UNC-Charlotte, and to explore these early modern recipes. It is not because I am especially skilled – in a sprint, I lag – I tremble at the vowel – but because of what we find in the encounter with Winche’s world. Get to the keyboard and stare down the vowel. The adventure continues, and the treasure is shared.

Back to school….

By Elaine Leong

Welcome to the 2015-16 academic year!

Time flies. It’s hard to believe but the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) enters its fourth year this September. Since our launch in 2012, nearly 80 students have transcribed over 900 pages across 5 campuses. In classes such as Lisa Smith’s ‘Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe’, Jennifer Munroe’s ‘Thinking Green: Eco-Approaches to Texts’, Amy Tigner’s ‘Recipes for Literature/Literature of Recipes’ and Rebecca Laroche’s ENGL 3200 course, students have worked collaboratively to transcribe the recipe books of Johanna St. John, Anne Fanshawe, Jane Baber, Frances Catchmay and Elizabeth Bulkeley. In their endeavors, they were ably aided by student research assistants working with Elaine Leong at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Hillary Nunn at The University of Akron. More information on teaching transcription in the classroom, including sample syllabi, can be found here.

The 2015-16 academic year proves to be an exciting one for EMROC. Firstly, we’re making the big move and joining forces with Heather Wolfe and the Early Modern Manuscripts Online team at the Folger Shakespeare Library. We have been working hard over the summer to prepare for our move. On the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus, Kat Rutz and Monterey Hall, have been helping us make the transition into DROMIO by uploading images of Wellcome manuscripts and testing out the transcription interface. In early October, we will celebrate the move with an international cross-time zone transcribathon. More news on that coming soon – watch this space!

As always, the new academic year brings a new group of undergraduate and graduate student members to EMROC. This fall, nearly 70 students will be transcribing the Catchmay, Corlyon, Grenville, Bulkeley and Fanshawe recipe books on four campuses across the United States. We’re delighted to welcome Nancy Simpson-Younger and her students at Pacific Lutheran University who will be working on sections of the Corlyon manuscript as part of the course ‘The Book in Society’. Cheers to a great semester of teaching, learning and transcribing.

Finally, led by Kailan Sindelar and Breanne Weber, enterprising students on the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina have started the ‘Early Modern Paleography Society’. With Jennifer Munroe as their faculty advisor, EMPS members will travel to Washington D.C. to join the October transcribe-a-thon and continue to bring recipe texts to life over the coming academic year. Starting October, EMPS members will also be chronicling their adventures in transcribing on this very blog, so check-in periodically to see how they’re doing.